BETHEL -- In good winters, the Kuskokwim River ice road offers this Western Alaska hub and nearby villages 200 or more miles of smooth travel, a frozen river route with an undercurrent of danger.
This may not be one of those winters.
A late fall mini-breakup in Western Alaska left a chaotic 2-mile jumble of ice below the village of Kalskag. The river jam will need intensive work to make the river into a slick highway passable not only by snowmachines and four-wheelers but also cars and trucks, according to Bethel Search and Rescue, the nonprofit organization that monitors the ice and sends help when things go bad.
Usually Bethel Search and Rescue and river villages have marked the start of a safe trail and dangerous spots of open water by November, in time for Thanksgiving reunions and Christmas shopping trips to Bethel. No one officially declares the ice road open but it gradually lengthens as the river hardens.
So far this year, there's no marked trail, only warnings of the risk and the tracks of those who are venturing out early.